The first thing that stands out about this book is the artwork. Lao has included images of the originals she discusses in the chapters. Lao has a knack for rewriting dialogue from legends. She explores many archetypes. Descriptions of each lead to the next, from pure and sweet to sultry like Lilith.
One-third of the way through the book, I started to long for a concrete thesis. Were there a cohesive argument, the title would suggest something about the succubae archetype of the divine feminine. Yet, I found many examples of occult history. A thesis could involve a statement about the significance of sirens and mermaids in esoteric knowledge. For such an argument, the author should provide more historical background for each artistic work, connecting the portraits.
For a book on art, I found Seduction and the Secret Power of Women: The Lure of Sirens and Mermaids an easy read. I have little background in art history. I have been exposed to religious art through the discipline of Religion. Meri Lao writes with captivating style. The skilled expert of art could write commentaries on Seduction and the Secret Power of Women. The amateur would enjoy it as leisure reading.
In chapter four, “Sirens and Science,” Meri Lao ventures into the weird with “sirenomelia,” the condition where human fetuses are born with siren-like features (pp. 196-98). Doctors were perplexed and fascinated by their subjects. Sirenomelia raises questions about humanity; those affected are neither human nor beast.
Overall, Seduction and the Secret Power of Women: The Lure of Sirens and Mermaids is a great addition to a magical or feminist library. I do not recommend storing it in a library in an upstairs room or a hidden chamber, for its benefit is the images and should be displayed. Besides the artwork, Meri Lao has provided informative, detailed text worth reading closely.
~review by Michelle Mueller
Author: Meri Lao
Park Street Press, 2007
pp. 230, $19.95